While most jetliners spend their last days gathering dust and rust in a scrapyard, one lucky 737 is enjoying quite an exciting post-retirement life. Aerotel – Aviator Boutique Hotel in South Africa is a retired passenger aircraft converted into a unique hotel, offering a chance to stay inside the cabin of an airplane in a comfortable and highly luxurious aviation-themed setting. How did this hotel come into being, and what exactly does the property offer? Let’s find out.
Saved from the graveyard
Situated in Hoedspruit, South Africa, Aerotel is the product of the town’s resident couple Martin and Tracy den Dunnen. An entrepreneur, pilot, and property developer, Martin and his wife had always dreamed of rescuing an airplane from a scrapyard and restoring it to its former glory.
The idea became a reality in 2019 when they purchased a retired Boeing 737-200, previously registered ZS-BIL. The 39-year-old plane was originally delivered to America West, and its last operator was Gryphon Airlines in South Africa.
With the help of local artisans, suppliers, and workforce, Martin and Tracy converted the aircraft into a magnificent hotel without any manual or previous experience.
The property opened for commercial use in October 2020 and is an approximately five-to-six-hour drive from Johannesburg. While slightly removed from urban buzz, Aerotel is not entirely off the grid. Its proximity to Kruger National Park and various animal rehabilitation centers offers a great chance for travelers to combine a unique stay with a safari. A quick scan of the hotel website gives details and contacts of all nearby outdoor attractions.
You’ll be inside a 737 cabin but will have access to all the amenities expected in a hotel. A queen bed, fridge, private bathroom and shower, coffee & tea, and complimentary WiFi are all included in the stay.
According to Gateway, Aerotel has six double en-suite cabins, with each room named after a cloud formation and carefully steeped in aviation theme. Another unique feature of the property is the ‘departure lounge’, which has original airplane seats and where guests first step in before the check-in process.
Adjoining the hotel is a mosaic swimming pool with an aviation compass, a bar, and a deck that offers the perfect place to relax and soak in stunning views of the northern Drakensberg mountains and bushveld.
A double luxury room with queen-size bed and air conditioning, en-suite bathroom (spa shower only), coffee and tea making facilities, refrigerator, laptop safe, and WiFi cost R1,500 (approx. $95) per person, according to the Aerotel website.
The property will soon offer another aircraft type but in a different accommodation class. A Boeing 727 airplane, which arrived in June this year after a five-day road trip from Johannesburg, is in the process of being converted into a VIP suite. Once ready, it will offer up to 18 beds available to exclusively book out – perfect for large families or groups.
The 727 was most recently registered J2-KBA and was a VIP jet for the Djibouti Air Force. It flew in this role between April 2001 and September 2012 but has been parked since then.
Bookings for the VIP suite will open up in the near future and is sure to attract aviation enthusiasts or anyone looking for a unique stay.